WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05), will introduce the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Improvement Act to make EQIP, a conservation program that helps farmers integrate conservation into working lands, more equitable for small farmers.

As extreme weather events become more common, farmers are increasing climate-resilient operations and expanding conservation practices. Under the current structure of the EQIP program, small farmers like those in Connecticut, are often unable to access conservation-focused funding streams. In 2021, over 87,000 farmers were turned away from EQIP. The EQIP Improvement Act would modernize the program to make it work for farms of all sizes.

EQIP is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service. The conservation program specifically helps farmers, ranchers and forest landowners voluntarily integrate conservation into working lands.

The maximum size of a five-year EQIP contract is $450,000, but the average annual grant size is just $30,000. In 2022 there was an estimated $2 billion backlog of unfunded grant applications. Due to high demand for conservation assistance, the USDA turns away approximately two out of every three farmers.

“Fifth District farmers are eager to explore or boost conservation efforts but are blocked because of financial constraints. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Improvement Act would strategically reframe the scope of the EQIP program and reduce barriers to create more opportunities for farmers. The Department of Agriculture is one of the only agencies that aids small farmers and currently the program is failing two out of every three applicants,” said Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05).  

The EQIP Improvement Act would address these issues by:

  • Reducing the maximum grant size from $450,000 to $150,000, allowing USDA to provide grants to more farmers.
  • Ending an arbitrary requirement at the federal level that 50% of EQIP funds go to livestock operators. The exact percentage would be left up to states, so that states with fewer livestock operations wouldn’t miss out on funding.
  • Decreasing the maximum cost sharing for projects that are not directly beneficial to the environment (such as roads, dams, animal waste pits, and land clearing) from 75 to 40%.
    • This, in turn, frees up more money to go to projects and practices that are beneficial to the environment (such as cover cropping, no-till, and nutrient management)

A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

“EQIP funding should support independent farmers employing meaningful conservation practices, not prop up the cruel and unsustainable practices used on factory farms, like manure lagoons and mortality sheds,” said Kara Shannon, Director of Farm Animal Welfare Policy at the American Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “We applaud Representative Hayes for introducing the EQIP Improvement Act, which would make critical reforms to the program—ensuring that more funds are distributed to small and mid-sized farmers while reducing funding for projects that disproportionately benefit industrial animal agriculture with little to no conservation benefits—and we urge Congress to include the legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill.” 

“Thousands of farmers are being turned away by USDA when they offer to share the cost of cleaner air and water. The reforms proposed in the EQIP Improvement Act of 2023 will allow more farmers to participate in EQIP when they seek USDA assistance to be better stewards. At a time when we need to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, we should be reforming conservation programs to help more farmers participate in programs like EQIP,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a national environmental organization.

"The EQIP Improvement Act will help protect communities across the country being impacted by pollution from industrialized animal agriculture operations by directing more funding towards conservation practices that protect rivers, streams, and air quality and benefit our climate. This bill also takes a critical step to level the playing field for smaller and beginning farmers and ranchers seeking access to EQIP funding for true conservation projects,” said Blakely Hildebrand, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.